Besides being a sure-fire way to prove how ahead of the curve you are (and save money on breakfast), intermittent fasting is slowly but surely proving the, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” adage to be, if not bullsh*t, at least up for debate.
Intermittent fasters say not eating until lunchtime gives you crystalline focus throughout the morning, helps you lose weight, and fine tunes your body. Conventional wisdom, however, says that skipping breakfast can actually cause you to put on more weight. So what’s the truth?
No matter where you stand on the issue, this guide will inform you on what intermittent fasting really is, how to implement it correctly, and whether it is a good fit for your lifestyle. Whether you’re just starting to look into it, or whether you are already ‘Ketones’ deep in the low-carb rabbit hole, let us walk you through the concept of intermittent fasting (and the low carb diets that often go with it).
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you alternate cycles of fasting and eating. It does not dictate which foods you should eat, but rather when you should eat them. That said, it is often accompanied by a low-carb diet, as together this helps you lose weight and keep your blood sugar and insulin levels low.
There are several different types of intermittent fasting that all—in some way or another—extend the body’s natural “fast,” which occurs every day while you sleep. The most popular way is to skip breakfast, eating your first meal at 12pm, and your last meal at 8pm. This means you’re fasting for 16 hours every day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour time-slot—hence the “16/8 method” label.
No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, tea, coffee and other non-caloric beverages. Likewise, taking supplements and vitamins is generally allowed—as long as there are no calories in them. Some forms of intermittent fasting also allow small amounts of low-calorie foods during the fasting period, but most recommend you steer clear.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Various processes in the body change when we don’t eat for a while. This is to do with hormones, genes and cellular repair processes that evolved to cope with famine. Here’s a comprehensive list of the benefits you get from hacking/activating them with intermittent fasting. We should also point out that these benefits depend on having a healthy diet outside of the fasting hours.
- Your blood sugar levels remain constant throughout the morning—so Ritalin and donuts will be a thing of the past.
- Many people also report increased wellbeing, and having more energy.
- Also, once your body is used to it (i.e. you’ve tweaked your diet so you’ve stopped getting hunger pangs), you should feel an increased ability to focus.
- Significant reductions in insulin levels, as well as an increase in human growth hormone (the repair hormone that keeps you looking young).
- Weight loss.
- Speeds up your metabolism.
- Could increase stem cell production.
- Some studies suggests it could help you live longer.
- Convenient – one meal less a day to cook and clean up after!
We also hit up Anthony Minichiello, rugby league legend and founder of Minifit, and committed intermittent faster, to ask about the benefits of this eating pattern. As well as being, “The best way for the body to fight infection and decrease inflammation,” Anthony told us, “The body is better at repairing itself when it’s in a fast state.”
“The longer you go in a fast the more the body will produce self eating and cleansing cells, so old DNA, protein, white blood cells, all that will be eaten by the body and transformed—it’s a cleansing process.”
“The longer I’m in a fast the clearer I get, the more focussed I am and the more energy I get,” he added. There was also data to back up his feelings of wellbeing: “I had a blood test before and after a 24 hour fast, and the next day my growth hormone—which fights ageing and keeps you young—had been stimulated.” He also credits fasting with helping him overcome a broken disk in his back.
“A year and a half ago I had the L4/5 disk break off, and had one centimetre in diameter floating around my lower back. Doctors were saying, ‘You’ve got to get that taken out, it’s giving you trouble,’ but that’s when I really deep dived into the fasting thing, to try and metabolise it – and break it down naturally. They said, ‘Good luck.’ I went back 12 months later, had an MRI – and the piece had completely gone.”
Intermittent Fasting Risks
Many of the risks associated with intermittent fasting come from not doing it properly. However, even (especially) among medical professionals there is some disagreement over the potential dangers of intermittent fasting. Here are a few to watch out for—and how to mitigate them.
- Fasting leaves you prone to dehydration, because your body is not getting any fluid from food. To counteract this: consume plenty of water.
- Hunger. This one’s fairly obvious, but if you are not used to it, fasting makes you hungry, which can lead to increased stress levels and disrupted sleep.
- Heartburn: smelling food or even thinking about it during fasting periods can trigger the brain into telling the stomach to produce more acid—leading to heartburn.
- Some health professionals believe intermittent fasting may steer people away from healthy eating recommendations, such as eating five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and trigger episodes of binge eating (it should be noted though that this is not a direct risk, but more of a knock on effect).
- For someone with an eating disorder, intermittent fasting could amplify the issue.
- Generally speaking, individuals under the age of 18, pregnant women, people with type 1 diabetes and individuals recovering from surgery shouldn’t try intermittent fasting.
- Extended periods of fasting (24 hours and beyond) could trigger your body’s survival (calorie conservation) mechanism, slowing your metabolism.
Types Of Intermittent Fasting
- The 16/8 Method: The most popular type of intermittent fasting, the 16/8 method involves not eating for 16 hours each day (typically between 8pm each night and noon the next day).
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Once or twice a week, don’t eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day (a 24 hour fast). Side note: although studies have shown intermittent fasting with a low sugar and low carb diet rich in fruit, veg and meat to be good for your insulin levels, some studies have linked this particular method with a higher risk of diabetes (in rats).
- The 5:2 Diet: During 2 days of the week, eat only about 500–600 calories.
Anthony Minichiello follows 16/8 method, as he finds it, “The simplest and the easiest to stick to.”
“I pretty much naturally eat this way. I am usually not very hungry in the morning, and don’t feel compelled to eat until about 1 pm… Then I eat my last meal somewhere between 6–9 pm, so I end up instinctively fasting for 16–19 hours every day.”
Tips & Tricks
Intermittent fasting is easier than you may think. Although hunger can be a problem in the beginning, if you eat a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and good quality protein and fats, this should help prevent serious food cravings. However, as Anthony pointed out, “For people on a standard Aussie diet high in carbs… it’s a big adjustment.”
- Newbies should start with a 12 hour break (delay breakfast by three hours instead of skipping it completely), cut out snacking and drink plenty of water.
- If you’re really hungry—just eat, don’t force yourself. But if you’re feeling energised and you want to extend the fast then go for it; extend it to lunch.
- Remember: you are your own test case, so listen to your body and understand that slightly different variations will suit different people.
- For your first meal of the day, to break the fast, Anthony Minichiello recommends, “Something with pasture raised protein with fruit and veg, and/or a nutrient rich smoothie.”
- Focus on building a strong foundation Monday to Friday so that you can indulge every once in a while on the weekend (Anthony’s one vice is sough dough bread).